November 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Ron GRAINER, Robert FARNON, Wilfred JOSEPHS and Albert ELMS
The Prisoner  Original Television Soundtrack 
  Vol. 1: SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 601 [55:45]
Vol. 2 SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 602 [57:39]
Vol.3 SILVA SCREEN  FILMCD 603 [51:59]
Crotchet (Vol 1)   (Vo 2)   (Vo 3)

prisoner prisoner 2
prisoner 3

This issue, or to be precise, reissue, celebrates the 35th anniversary of the first appearance on TV (in 1967) of The Prisoner, which has become a world-wide cult. For those who are immune to the cult, the story line has the hero, previously employed on top secret work, captured and detained in "The Village" (Portmeirion, in North Wales, was used for the location filming). His many attempts to escape, though ingenious, are ultimately futile, as the "imprisonment" is symbolic, in his own (indeed our own) mind. These discs, almost entirely based on the original soundtracks, feature much of the wide variety of music used in the 14 episodes with some snatches of dialogue to add atmosphere and will doubtless be a cherished souvenir for the series' many devotees.

But the music for The Prisoner has a fascination of its own which makes the release of great interest to those who enjoy the popular music of the mid-20th century. Some of it was specially composed for the series but much was taken from the shelves of Chappell's Recorded Music Library. This (and similar libraries built up by other music publishers) was a treasure house of short, mostly orchestral pieces in a variety of idioms ranging from classical to pop, each capturing a particular mood in three minutes or less, which film, TV and radio producers could draw on to suitably illustrate their products. Some of the great names in British Light Music were represented in the libraries and we encounter several of them here; for example: Philip Green, Sidney Torch, Robert Farnon, Jack Beaver (two atmospheric numbers originally called 'Ionosphere' and 'Spaceways') and Mark Lubbock, whose 'Moon Lullaby' is delightful. It is good to hear again the stirring marches: 'Freedom of the City' and 'National Unity', both by Arnold Steck; 'Awkward Squad' by Philip Green; and 'Double X' by C.H. Jaeger. Not all "library composers" were, or are, British, and in this connection, I like particularly the movements by the Frenchman Paul Bonneau 'Thierry  Veneaux' (five tracks altogether) and Roger Roger (seven) especially the latter's period pastiches 'Pavane' and 'Lonely Flute'.

Coming now to music actually written for the series, an opening titles theme was commissioned from Ron Grainer, and from those prolific writers Robert Farnon and Wilfred Josephs. The efforts of the latter two were eventually discarded (though two tracks of Joseph's music appear on Vol. 1 of this 3 CD set and, as I have said, Farnon's library miniatures – four very varied ones, none of them particularly well-known but all representative of his genius – were drawn on for individual episodes). Grainer, who was well versed in providing music for TV (remember then first series of BBC TV's Maigret - and Dr Who?), was given the nod for his "entry", which figures a number of times and in various versions on these discs; it is, of course, highly effective for its purpose, more popular in idiom than Joseph's and, one fancies, Farnon's discords. The other purpose –written music is arranged (from classical sources, Johann Strauss I, Bizet and Vivaldi) or composed by Bert Elms. Elms often incorporates nursery rhymes and other popular tunes – like the 'Eton Boating Song' – and much of his contribution was, doubtless for economic reasons, by the sound of it, scored for small ensembles. (Many of the "library" tracks presumably feature the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra, though not all, as one is for guitar solo, another for synthesiser).

Whether one's interest is the Prisoner or the popular music of a generation ago, or both these attractively presented discs can be recommended with confidence.  

Philip L. Scowcroft


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